Archive for August, 2012

In Praise of the Blue Moon

I tell my students that the full moon is a cliché in most writing (I will not insert information about werewolf literature here) but the blue moon, the second full moon in a month, is worth writing about. In celebration of tonight’s blue moon, take a look at Lisa Russ Spaar’s article about the influence of the moon and 32 Poems’ celebration of moon poems.

Second Book Summer

It’s been a great summer of reading.  It’s also been the summer of second books, with a lot of second collections by many of my favorite poets.  If you have not read these great books, put them on your fall reading list.  

 The Wishing Tomb by Amanda Auchter  (Perugia Press)  New Orleans takes center stage in Amanda Auchter’s second poetry collection.   Exploring the Crescent City’s deep history through  a strong lyrical voice, readers learn about Fred Staten, a nightclub performer who was also considered as the King of Voodoo; Sister Francis Xavier Herbert, an Ursuline nun who was the first woman pharmacist in America; and Maryann Albert, the mother of Louis Armstrong.  The tragedy of Hurricane Katrina also is present in this collection, although it is not the focus, as Auchter dives into the diverse and mysterious past that has created this resilient city.  (First Book: The Glass Crib)

Notes to the Beloved by Michelle Bitting  (Sacramento Poetry Center Press)  Winner of the 2011 Sacramento Poetry Center Book Contest, Notes to the Beloved is collection containing poems that are caught between the lyric and the narrative.  Whether she is describing a wife watching her husband untangle holiday lights or retelling Alice in Wonderland’s fall through the rabbit hole, Bitting creates magic, making familiar stories just a little bit surreal. My favorite poem “Boys Like You” can actually be found online here.  (First Book: Good Friday Kiss)

The Children by Paula Bohince (Sarabande Books)  Fans of the Scrapper Poet know how much I love Paula Bohince’s work, and her second collection, The Children, did not disappoint. Writing serene pastorals, Bohince plucks elements from the natural world — bees, milkweed pods, dogwood —  to create a world of isolated beauty.  Still, with poems like “Everywhere I Went That Spring, I Was Alone” anyone reading this book will wander away feeling  just a little bit lonely. (First Book: Incident at the Edge of Bayonet Woods)                               

Home Burial by Michael McGriff  (Copper Canyon Press)  A work of gritty working-class landscapes, Michael McGriff’s Home Burial details places and people of hardship.  Whether he is describing a pastoral-like scene of deer bones and rats or retelling a story about catfishing,  McGriff draws the reader into a world of tough and stubborn living.  (First Book: Dismantling the Hills)

The Death of Flying Things by Gabriel Welsch (WordTech)  Gabriel Welsch returns to rural Pennsylvania (a favorite place of mine, if I do say so myself) in his second collection, where he explores both the wonder and tragedy of  rural life where interactions between humans and the natural world are favorite subjects.  (First Book: Dirt and All Its Dense Labor)

Back to School

Tomorrow, I’m back in the classroom.  It’s been a bit crazy the last few days — I’ve been preparing for my regular classes plus working on a new course I have never taught before.  Furthermore, I’ve been trying to finish up some summer projects, including writing two book reviews.  (Why, when I have the whole summer, do I wait until the last-minute to finish things? Could it be that I really do work best under pressure?) I’m ready to settle into a schedule, both a classroom and a writing schedule. I’m ready to get back into the groove.

August Poetry Pick: Mid Drift

When I read this review about Kate Hanson Foster’s collection of poems, Mid Drift, I just knew I had to pick up a copy. The collection is set in Lowell, Massachusetts, so my working-class history mind instantly went to the past where the  Lowell Mill Girls worked in the textile mills.  While Mid Drift is not about this part of Lowell’s history, sense of place is very important in this collection, whether it’s found in poems that explore specific locations in Lowell or it’s used as a reflection of the characters who appear in many of the poems.

Many of the poems describe the physical location of Lowell.  For example, to the narrator in “The Merrimack” the river is personified in lyrical language: “You are home to me/and I follow you with sloppy knees.  Bare feet/pay no heed to the slimy bank, the bicycle/corroding, and to my surprise, your sleeves/make no ripple in the water.” In another poem, “Mill Ruins” the narrator describes a sexual encounter in the middle of industrial debris, explaining “Standing among the mill ruins/there is a silence so fleshy, almost human//the kind that waits/for something to happen.//Look at the way the city ignores even this.”   Finally, in “Dear Lowell” the narrator unconvincingly declares, “I have decided to leave” and then proceeds to explain why: “I walked down too many alleyways alone/looked the wrong people in the eye and dared//the knife to my throat.”

Certainly, some readers would want to know why a narrator would want to stay, why there is love for the debris and danger of Lowell.   The answer to that question is found in the poems that explore the lives of those in Lowell.  There’s a stubborn and gritty determination found in these lives, from a teenager who falls from the roof while trying to sneak a cigarette, to a father who, when attending church, suffers both spiritual and physical discomfort.  My favorite poem is “At the Blue Moon Strip Club” where the narrator watches a performer: “I am watching a woman without breasts/step lightly around the stage//piece by piece her skin announcing/itself.” 

Mid Drift is Foster’s first collection of poems and certainly one that is not to be missed, especially for readers who are interested in sense of place.   (For more information about Mid Drift, click on this link to Loom Press) Furthermore, many of the blurbs and reviews of Mid Drift refer to The Fighter, a movie that takes place in Lowell.  Thus, Mid Drift has done something that no other poetry collection has ever done for me: make me want to watch a movie.

CFS: the museum of americana

Justin Hamm, editor of the new online journal the museum of americana has posted a call for the journal’s first submissions.  According to the guidelines, the museum of americana accepts submissions of original fiction, nonfiction, poetry, book/chapbook reviews, writer interviews, photography, and art. The journal seeks work that showcases and/or repurposes historical American culture.  See the guidelines for more details.

Happy Anniversary to the Gettysburg Review

The Gettysburg Review is celebrating its 25th anniversary!  And as part of this celebration, the journal is offering a great deal: go online and subscribe or renew for the same price as what was offered in 1988, the first year that The Gettysburg Review was published.  Yep.  That means you can get a whole year’s subscription for only $12 — four issues at a great price!  Take a look at the website for more information and more great deals.

Revising the Summer

If I could, I would.  Revise this past summer, that is.   In the last month or so, I spent a great deal of time writing, but not writing what I would deem, quality material.   But I also spent a lot of time worrying about not writing quality material.  And that, of course, is a waste of time.

This past week, under the guidance of poets Gabriel Welsch and Ted Kooser (in separate classes), I have learned about the placement of metaphors and the art of the line.  I’ve even had an epiphany or two about my own writing.  Yesterday, when I faced the daunting task of gathering my notes and poetry drafts from the summer, I looked through all my work, and found that my first response was that I was disappointed in myself.  I had wanted to write enough new poems to finish my collection, and that simply did not happen.  

But then I thought a lot about what I have learned, especially this past week — that good writing takes time, and that while it is important to write every day, it’s also important to understand that much of what one writes is not very good.  And that’s okay, too.

I have a new textbook for one of my fall classes.  Included in this textbook is an essay titled “Shitty First Drafts” by Anne Lamott.  Now, I have read this work  before and I thinks it’s hysterical (and true!)  I’m going to use this essay during my first week of classes — I’m eager to see my students’ reactions.  For those of you who don’t know this piece, you can read it here.

Where I Will Be…

Cooler weather has set in, bringing relief from the heat. In fact, it feels a bit like Autumn outside, which is appropriate since the Fall Semester starts soon. I’m back to the office in less than two weeks, but I’m celebrating the final days of summer at Chautauqua, where I will be taking one workshop with Pennsylvania poet, Gabriel Welsch and another workshop with former Poet Laureate, Ted Kooser.  I hope that this week brings some inspiration — someone once said that art is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration — and I’ve had plenty of perspiration this past month, so now I’m just looking for that remaining one percent….

Earth’s Eye

Writers, naturalists, bird watchers, teachers, journal keepers—anyone interested in writing about the natural world— get inspired and take your work to the next level!  Earth’s Eye, A Festival of Writing in and on the Natural World will take place in Erie, Pennsylvania on Saturday, September 8.  The cost is only $36!!! (And that cost covers transportation from the Penn State Erie to Presque Isle State Park, lunch, and dinner)

Scott Russell Sanders will be the main speaker (If you do not know Sanders’ work, you need to look up his books, now!) Other readings will be given by faculty members of the BFA program at Penn State Erie.

For more information and to register online, go to www.behrend.psu.edu/festival.

Adanna & The Radium Girls

The newest issue of Adanna features my poem, “Sleeping with the Radium Girls.” In case you don’t know the reference, my poem is examining (in a surreal sort of way) the plight of the Radium Girls, a group of female factory workers who were poisoned when they painted watch dials with glow-in-the-dark paint that contained radium. 

I’ve mentioned before that the Triangle Fire (another important and tragic event in the history of working-class women) is a very prominent subject in contemporary literature including poetry. Yet, I don’t see as much written about the Radium Girls.  I have read two novels that feature the Radium Girls:  Radium Halos by Shelley Stout  and The Death Instinct by Jed Rubenfeld  but not a lot of poetry. Because the world of poetry and even the world of working-class poetry is so big, it’s quite possible that I’ve missed some good work out there about this particular part of women’s history.  If you happen to know something that I have missed, please leave a link!

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